Three contrasting half-centuries against a largely insipid bowling attack turned the opening day of the Multan Test into a one-horse race. Batting first under overcast skies, Pakistan's top four cashed in on a flat pitch, erratic fast bowling and lethargic fielding to motor their team along to 263 for 4 at the end of the day. A bit more of this and the series would be sealed.
Imran Farhat, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf enjoyed varying degrees of fortune and each batsman was more in control than the previous. Farhat's was a streaky 74, one where risky flashes came off more because of the lack of bowling quality than his audacity; Younis's was a gritty 56, a dog-fight at the start and more fluent later; and Yousuf's was an assertive 56, commanding at the start before turning edgy towards the end.
Before all of these was a handy knock from Mohammad Hafeez and at the end of day was an even more authoritative cameo from Inzamam-ul-Haq. Amid all this a regulation catch was fluffed - Daren Ganga let off Yousuf for the second time in two games - and a couple of tough chances weren't seized. The inertia on the field was palpable. When new batsmen are greeted with defensive fields, you know only one side's turned up for the contest.
West Indies made a couple of tough decisions with their team selection. The dropping of Ramnaresh Sarwan, their vice-captain, came as a shock but it was the other choice - Daren Powell replacing Fidel Edwards - that was of immediate concern. Struggling with his length, Powell undid the good work that Corey Collymore and Jerome Taylor had begun and allowed the openers considerable leeway. Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo were high on economy but a lack of overall consistency allowed Pakistan to cruise.
All four wickets that fell were owing to poor shot selection. Hafeez, by far the more confident of the two openers, was cruising along at 36, easing drives and gauging the swing, when he edged a short and wide one from Taylor to the wicketkeeper. Farhat continued to walk the tightrope after bringing up his half-century, increasingly looking edgy against the ball moving away. Throughout his knock he wasn't totally in control, far from it, and survived thanks to freebies that were being handed out. The half-volleys were struck crisply down the ground and several errors in length were punished square of the wicket. Powell, playing in his 18th Test, squandered a chance to utilise the overcast conditions, and struggled to hit the right length early on.
Taylor, his countryman with half the Test experience, showed more fight, running in quick and generating disconcerting lift through the day. He consistently cranked up more than 85mph and occasionally hurried the batsmen on a shirtfront. He was rewarded with two wickets - Farhat poked at a full-length ball angling away and Younis, after a battling half-century, failed to keep a wide bouncer down. Younis was tied up in all sorts of knots early on but unlike Farhat, he bided his time and displayed a more bloody-minded approach. A steady drizzle at the end of the session came with its share of problems but once play resumed - about 12 minutes after lunch - he gritted it out for close to an hour. At one stage he'd managed 24 off 76 balls but soon began expressing himself with some bludgeoned fours.
Yousuf, his partner in many a mammoth partnership this year, was the more composed of the duo and steadily motored to his half-century. He was quick on the pull, especially against Taylor, and his silken wrists took care of the over-pitched ones. Unlike the rest of the top-order, he didn't have to face the bowling at its toughest and made hay when the sun came out. The two most impressive bowlers of the day were wretchedly unlucky: Collymore, typically accurate, was unlucky to watch several deliveries miss the bat and Gayle, teasing with his sharp offbreaks, didn't have too much fortune either.
The last and only time West Indies played a Test match in Multan was back in January 1981, in a game mostly remembered for Sylvester Clarke's infamous brick-throwing incident. More such sloppy bowling and fielding from his men, in a game they just can't afford to lose, and Brian Lara might just be tempted to move towards the boundary line and hunt for a few red rectangular debris.